Posted on July 2, 2020

Citing Racial Bias, San Francisco Will End Mug Shots Release

Olga R. Rodriguez, Associated Press, July 1, 2020

San Francisco police will stop releasing the mug shots of people who have been arrested unless they pose a threat to the public, as part of an effort to stop perpetuating racial stereotypes, the city’s police chief announced Wednesday.

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott and outside police experts said they believe the department would be the first in the nation to do so based on concerns about racial bias.

The booking photos taken by police when a person is arrested for a crime are often made public whether or not the person is prosecuted for the alleged crime. That can undermine the presumption of innocence and help perpetuate stereotypes, experts said.

“This is just one small step but we hope this will be something that others might consider doing as well,” Scott said.

Large cities like Los Angeles and New York already have policies against releasing booking photos but make exceptions. For example, the New York Police Department, the nation’s largest, releases information on arrests but doesn’t put out mug shots unless investigators believe that will prompt more witnesses to come forward or aid in finding a suspect. Georgia and New York stopped releasing booking photos in an effort to curtail websites that charge people to remove their picture and booking information.


In San Francisco, the only exceptions will be if a crime suspect poses a threat or if officers need help locating a suspect or an at-risk person, Scott said. Under the policy, the release of photos or information on a person who is arrested will also require approval from the police department’s public relations team.

Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said not every department that has a policy against releasing mug shots gives a reason. {snip}

He said barring the publication of crime suspects’ mug shots on television shows and elsewhere should be part of any meaningful justice reform in the country.